RLC in the Media: “Strip Searches Were Never Meant to Be Routine”: RLC’s Sam Lee on the Splendour Class Action

Redfern Legal Centre has long been calling out NSW police on its routine misuse of what’s supposed to be a measure of last resort.

Paul Gregoire interviews Samantha Lee for Sydney Criminal Lawyers. 

While the 2019 UNSW strip search report it commissioned, found that between November 2006 and June 2018 the use of this invasive measure had increased twentyfold.

And now RLC is taking a different avenue in challenging rising strip search use, as it announced last week that it’s teamed up with Slater and Gordon to run a class action on behalf of Splendour in the Grass patrons who may have been subjected to an illegal strip search.

As the rising use of strip searches by NSW police was increasingly of concern in the community, state police watchdog the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) launched an investigation into the matter in October 2018.

This resulted in the 2020 LECC strip search report, which uncovered a number of suspect searches, including a 15-year-old boy at 2019’s Lost City Festival being asked to lift his testicles to show his “gooch” and a 16-year-old having had an officer rub his hands over his buttocks at the same event.

Then there was the case of a 16-year-old girl at the 2018 Splendour in the Grass Festival, who was not only asked to take off her clothing, but she was ordered to remove her pantyliner so an officer could look under it, before being asked to squat, so the officer could look right up underneath her.

Redfern Legal Centre is currently putting a call out to any patrons who were strip searched at four consecutive Splendour festivals commencing with the 2016 event, as it believes hundreds of festivalgoers were likely illegally searched and, therefore, are warranted just compensation.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Redfern Legal Centre police accountability solicitor Samantha Lee about what the class action entails, the need for clear amended protocols in the legislation, and how strip searches were never meant to be an everyday part of life in the community.

"Strip searches were never meant to be normalised, and they were never meant to be routine. Strip searches were only meant to be undertaken in the most exceptional circumstances. Instead, what we have seen is that they’ve become everyday police practice."

"Why should people be concerned? Because these are horrific, invasive practices."

"We’ve seen from the coroner’s report that they’ve potentially contributed to young people doubling up on drugs before entering festivals and creating dangerous environments for them."

"What we should be concerned about as a society is keeping young people and vulnerable groups safe and not exposed to these dangerous practices".

Read the full interview here. (Sydney Criminal Lawyers, 24 November 2021)